I know 看 and 见 both mean "to see". But they are used differently in different words. Like 看书 看电影...etc. and 见面 见识...etc. (Or do Chinese people say 见书 见电影 or 看面 看识?)

Is there a rules to use them differently?

  • Similar confusing when the first time I started to learn English and came across the two words "look" and "see", maybe also "watch". Actually, "看" stands for "look/watch/stare/glance", while "见" stands for "see" Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 14:48

3 Answers 3


In Classical Chinese, 见 describes the action that you get visual information. It implies the result, but has no duration. 见 is more like to see, 看 is more like to look (at).

In modern Chinese, you probably will not use 见 as a verb. Instead, you say 看见, which consists of a verb 看 and a particle 见. In Classical Chinese, we say 不见, but in modern Chinese, we say 看不见 (cannot see) or 没看见 (did not see) depending on the context. 见 serves as the result complement of 看 here.

The 看 in 看书 and 看电影 does not mean to perceive with the eyes. You'd better take them as collocations.

见 can be used as a verb when it means to see/meet someone, or to see something unusual and widen one's knowledge. For example, 见客人, 见世面, etc.

见面 (to meet) literally means to see someone's face. 见识 literally means to see and then to know something. But I think dictionaries will simply list them as compound verbs, because you cannot guess their idiomatic meanings from their literal meanings.

In short, 看 and 见 either have different grammatical functions (verb vs particle), or have totally different meanings.

  • Upvote for specifically addressing use of 看见 together, the 看不见 complement, and 看见 vs 看见 . I prefer to re-order your paragraphs though :) I prefer to start with your summary, "In short, ...". I also prefer to see "见 can be used..." , but clarifying how "you probably will not use 见..." Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 20:56

They don't both mean "to see" exactly. Actually, both have multiple meanings, some but not all of which overlaps.

Possible meanings of 看:

  • To observe
  • To view (in appreciation)
  • To visit
  • To (visually) estimate
  • To be treated by a doctor
  • As a particle, it conveys the sense of "give it a try"

Possible meanings of 見:

  • To have seen
  • To visit
  • To meet (in the sense of to receive a guest)
  • To meet (in the sense of bumping into someone on the road)
  • As a noun, views, opinions, understanding

As you might have noticed, the usages of 看 tend to involve being focused on the act of looking. In contrast, 見 tends to be used in situations where looking is not the focus of the activity. The difference in focus would be a clue, though not an absolute rule, for you to decide which one to use in a given phrase.

Turning to your specific examples: in 看书 or 看电影, the character 看 takes the meaning of "to view, to observe, to admire" in the same sense as enjoying the view when sightseeing. 見 does not have an equivalent meaning for this usage. Thus, you might say 看風景 (sightseeing), but never 見風景; you could say 看得見風景 (the view is visible) however.

With the case of 見面, the character 見 is "to see" in the sense of to meet. Again, 看 does not have a completely equivalent meaning. On the other hand, 看 can be used to mean to visit. Therefore, you could say 見客 (receive a guest) but not 看客; whereas both 去看朋友 and 去見朋友 (to see a friend) are possible (but 去找朋友 might be more popular than either).

For the last one, 見識 uses 見 as a noun in the sense of "a view, an opinion, a understanding". Again, no equivalent in 看.


The difference between these two characters is similar to that of "listen" and "hear" in English.

  • 看 emphasizes the action of looking (analogous to "listen"),

  • while 见 prefers the result of see (analogous to "hear").

  • "汉语动词380例",见/看,一、见1。刚才我见他去图书馆了。动词"见"是看到和看见的意思。如~世面,~朋友,~客人等。2。那种花儿要经常见阳光。"见"有接触和遇到的意思。多用于光、电、风、雨、水、温度等自然现象。3。这个孩子的个儿又见高了。"见"在这儿是显现出的意思。如~瘦、~胖、~好、~成效等。4。我们在北京只见了两个小时。"见"在这儿是跟谁会面或会见某人的意思。如~客人、~朋友、~领导等。二、看1。他每天晚上看书看得很晚。动词"看"是视线注视一定的对象或方向。如~电视、~画儿、~球赛、~报纸等。2。不但要看他的言论,还要看他的行动。"看"在这儿是对人或事物进行观察。如~某人、~情况、~运气、~机会等。3。明天我要去看一位老同学。"看"在这儿是探望和访问的意思。如~父母、~朋友、~病人、~亲戚等。"看"表示这种意思的时候,跟"见"相似,但是有区别,用"看"着意在探望,而"见"着意在会面,是不能互换的。4。我看他不会来了。"看"在这儿指经过分析思考,作出某种判断,有认为的意思。后边一般都是小句,如"我~病得不轻。""你~他们之间的关系怎么样?"等."见"不表示这样的意思。5。那位大夫每天都要看很多病人。"看"还有诊治的意思。如~眼睛、~牙、~中医、~西医等。"见"不表示这样的意思。"看"还有照看的意思。如~"奶奶在家~孩子."等。
    – user6065
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 5:34

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